Panthers ready for 2015

Diana King throws a pitch against Valhalla on May 31. King will return next year with 500 strikeouts under her belt.

Diana King throws a pitch against Valhalla on May 31. King will return next year with 500 strikeouts under her belt.

By MIKE SMITH

If this year’s veteran crop of Rye Neck baseball proved anything, it’s that talent—and chemistry—can carry a team to the greatest of heights. As Rye Neck’s softball players look ahead to next spring, they might be in for a similar fate.

Nicole Miller gets ready for the pitch on May 31. Miller will again be one of the lynchpins for the Panthers in 2015. Photos/Mike Smith

Nicole Miller gets ready for the pitch on May 31. Miller will again be one of the lynchpins for the Panthers in 2015. Photos/Mike Smith

This year, with just two seniors on the roster, the Panthers went 18-5 and earned a berth in the Class B final game, where some bad luck and an injury to starting catcher Sam Yanuzzi doomed them to a 9-0 loss against the six-time section champs Valhalla. Although the Panthers and backup catcher Rosella Salanitro battled valiantly, it wasn’t enough to unseat the dominant team on the Class B landscape.

“Sam getting hurt took the wind out of our sails,” coach Joan Spedafino said. “But, also, we didn’t have that timely hitting and I think, in the past, sometimes luck has been on the side of Valhalla.”

Next year, the Panthers are hoping to write a different story.

The Panthers will lose just one starter, outfielder Leah Haviland, and return the bulk of a team that competed against some of the top talent in the area, regardless of school size.

“I was extremely proud of the way we played this year,” Spedafino said. “The teams we picked up on the schedule were mostly AA and A teams and we won games with people making adjustments and relying on a number of girls throughout the year.”

Chief among the returnees will be seniors Nicole Morgan and Briana Cefaloni, as well as hurler Diana King, who continues to be one of the dominant forces in Section I, racking up more than 500 strikeouts in her career so far. King and Yanuzzi will once again form the Panthers’ battery, and Spedafino believes the two will benefit from another year of working together.

Leah Haviland throws the ball to the infield against Valhalla.

Leah Haviland throws the ball to the infield against Valhalla.

“[Assistant coach] Frank [Spedafino] calls the pitches and Sam does a great job blocking everything back there,” Spedafino said. “And, as the season went on, her throws to second were quicker too. When Diana leaves, she will be a great mentor for whoever steps up behind her.”

Spedafino said that, while around five or six girls will play softball this summer, most will be gearing up for their fall sports, which will keep them in shape for when they hit the diamond next spring.

“[They’re playing] volleyball, and field hockey,” she said.  With a school as small as Rye Neck, a lot of the girls are busy during the year.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

 

 

Jackie DeCiccio takes a cut on May 31. DeCiccio is one of several Panthers who will return in 2015.

Jackie DeCiccio takes a cut on May 31. DeCiccio is one of several Panthers who will return in 2015.

 

 

 
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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.